During my month here at the University of Portland I’ve been asked a few times, “Why a Brother?” or “What’s a Brother?” Trust me, I have the answer memorized.
At first it was a difficult question to answer and, frankly, one I didn’t really enjoy answering (especially when I first started discerning brotherhood). However, a good place to start is, what is a Brother? Most people, including Catholics, have had little exposure to the religious Brothers’ vocation over the course of their lives. It’s never been the most popular vocation but it’s one that’s been around for millennia.
A religious Brother is a man who professes vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience to a specific religious order (for me the Congregation of Holy Cross; like the other priests and brothers on campus). Some religious orders include only brothers, while others have both priests and brothers.
Our profession of vows links us to the community we profess in and therefore we do a ministry within the community’s charism. Holy Cross Brothers have done a lot of different things; many of them have been teaching brothers at our high schools or universities; others worked as coadjutor, which means helping or working, brother cooks, maintenance men, or farmers for the community.
But most of all they are men who dedicate their lives to their community and more importantly to the Church and God. They are men who aspire to serve God in all they do and to grow in their relationship with Him. I would say this is the biggest requirement for any man aspiring to be a brother and it is something that I hope to grow in over the course of my religious life.
But why a brother and not a priest? I always love this question because I think it’s rooted in our society of achievement. We live in a society where a higher rung on the ladder is coveted by those in it. In order to be the best, we need a college degree, a Masters, or a Ph.D., and society forces this down our throats.
Priesthood certainly can be one of those “rungs,” especially in the Catholic world. So why wouldn’t I climb up the ladder and “go all the way?” Well my biggest reason is that I don’t feel called to the priesthood.
During my time in the undergraduate seminary, I realized that I had no real desire to celebrate the sacraments. Since this is an essential element of Catholic priesthood, it revealed that I didn’t really want to be a priest. However, I met some of the religious brothers on campus at Notre Dame and realized, “That’s what I want to do!” I wanted to serve Holy Cross, God, and His Church in a concrete way that was manifested through the vows.
I came to the realization that I was called to serve and love the people of God as their brother; not as their father. One of the biggest draws for me has been the simplicity and, at the same time, the complexity of the vocation.
The goal is simple, to serve God and His people through the vows, but to live that goal is a different matter. There are certainly ups and downs within the vocation, but that is just a simple fact of life. All walks of life have ups and downs and are not always the easiest path to follow.
However, I have a strong feeling that God has called me to this life and desires for me to be a Holy Cross Brother. Now when people ask me the question “Why a Brother?” and after I tell them my reason I simply say, “Why not a Brother?”
Br. Rob Ackerman is a Novice with the Congregation of Holy Cross, and will be at UP until Feb. 8th. He’s originally from Burlington, MA and graduated from Holy Cross College in South Bend, IN in 2017. You can find him in Christie Hall.